As the legendary Billy Graham is laid to rest today in Charlotte, North Carolina I think the world is realizing how special he really was. He was a once-every-hundred-years type of preacher.
Billy Graham preached to over 200 million people (not counting his televised outreaches) and reached millions upon millions with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God used him to reach more people for Christ than any preacher in the history of the church!
As a teenager I used to watch his televised outreaches (called “crusades” back then) in awe. I marveled how God used this lanky preacher with an iron jaw and an aw-shucks drawl to shake the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Billy Graham inspired me to become an evangelist. As a fifteen year old I was so motivated by his preaching that, while other teenaged boys doodled race cars, I doodled stadiums full of people. Billy Graham’s passion to reach massive amounts of people for Jesus motivated me to try to do the same.
What made Billy Graham so special was not his ability to draw a crowd or get them to respond. It was the character of the man and the sheer simplicity of his aim…to save lost souls…to introduce them to the love of God through Jesus Christ.
As a matter of fact I think there are 7 lessons every Christian (not just aspiring evangelists) can learn from the life and legacy of Billy Graham.
1. Be humble.
Billy Graham was a humble man. He viewed himself as a country boy preacher who God blessed to preach before millions. His humility drew people in and opened hearts up.
In a world where slick TV preachers complete with entourages, designer suits and oversized egos are not uncommon, Billy Graham stood out as a man of humility, dignity and grace. It showed in how he lived his life, interacted with others and communicated God’s Word. It was the very life and love of Jesus living through him that made his authenticity and humility so powerful and impacting.
James 4:10 reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” God loves to lift up the lowly! The more we humble ourselves the more he will accelerate our ministry impact. The more we walk in humility the more, like Billy Graham, we will reflect Christ to those around us.
2. Be careful.
Early on in his ministry Billy Graham and his team came up with “The Modesto Manifesto.” This simple covenant listed a handful of key accountability practices that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association team would make habits in their lives and ministry.
These practices ranged from not driving/dining alone with a member of the opposite sex to making sure the numbers they reported from their evangelistic outreaches were accurate to rigorous financial accounting practices for the offerings they took at their events. These types of accountability practices enabled Billy Graham and his team to remain scandal free and above reproach during their decades of ministry on the road together.
While there is no accountability measure that will guarantee our purity and integrity, the right accountability practices can help create a buffer between us and a devastating choice. Sure, lust can pick a lock…but a good lock at least takes effort to unlock.
What is “The Modesto Manifesto” you need to make in your own life and ministry? What are the accountability practices that will help keep you above reproach and scandal free in your Christian witness? May the integrity of Billy Graham and his team set a bar for our own lives and ministries.
3. Be bold.
Billy Graham boldly asked for his audiences to make a decision for Jesus. He gave the Gospel during his sermon and then boldly asked people to people put their faith in Jesus during the invitation.
I’ll never forget him doing just that when I attended a Billy Graham Crusade for the first time. In 1987 this renown evangelist came to Denver for ten nights.
I was blown away by the simplicity of his message and the boldness of his ask. The crowd responded in droves.
One of the hardest parts of sharing Jesus for the average Christian is asking people to put their faith in Jesus right then and there. I’ve seen it again and again working with teenagers for the last 25 years at Dare 2 Share.
During our training events we train and mobilize teenagers to share the Gospel with others. Often the hardest part for them comes when its time to ask a person to trust in Jesus. Some teenagers stop short of boldly asking them to believe.
In the same way Christian adults who share their faith often bail when it comes to asking someone to trust in Jesus right there on the spot . But as 2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us, “Today is the day of salvation.” We, like Billy Graham, must boldly ask people to believe in Jesus right then and there…becasue today is the day of salvation!
4. Be focused.
Billy Graham refused to be distracted by politics. He knew that, as an evangelist, his primary job was to evangelize, not to politicize.
There are generations of Presidents that Billy Graham ministered to over the decades. But Billy Graham refused to get involved in politics, instead he ministered to them personally. When Bill Clinton was President he said that when Billy Graham prayed for him he didn’t feel like Billy was praying for “the President” but praying for Bill Clinton personally.
In a world where armchair online political quarterbacks are spewing Facebook opinions about this and that, I wonder if Christians should take our cue from Billy Graham. Maybe we should be known for our love for Jesus, not our particular political points of view.
5. Be simple.
I’ve heard it again and again from others, what shocked them most about Billy Graham was the sheer simplicity of the man and his message.
May we preach a simple Gospel message to those around us. May we focus on Christ and him crucified. May we preach faith alone in Christ alone! May our message be simple and our Gospel be clear!
As Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” 2 Corinthians 11:3.
For help in clearly sharing the Gospel download our free Dare 2 Share app. It will equip you to bring the Gospel up humbly, share the Gospel clearly and ask someone to put their faith in Jesus boldly. It is a simple app that will help you share the simple message of Jesus to those around you.
6. Be prayerful.
Someone once asked Billy Graham what were the keys to his successful crusades/outreaches. His answer was that there were three keys:
May the Lord teach us to bring our requests to him and pray in faith for God to answer those prayers. May the Lord teach us, like Billy Graham, to ask God and trust God for the harvest of souls we are seeking to reach. If we want to preach like Billy Graham and reap like Billy Graham then we need to pray like Billy Graham.
7. Be loving.
I’ll never forget watching an interview with Billy Graham and Katie Couric back in 1998. She had just returned to work after taking some time off due to the loss of her husband to colon cancer.
Katie began the interview professionally and started asking Dr. Graham some questions. He stopped her right away and gently put his hand on her shoulder and said something like, “Before we get started with all that, I want to ask you how you are doing with the loss of your husband. Ruth and I have been praying for you.“
I’ll never forget when she paused, teared up and thanked him. I’ll never forget that pastoral moment between a reporter and an evangelist. I’ll never forget the love of Jesus that was pouring out from Billy Graham in that moment. It reflected a life and ministry full of the love of Jesus.
Even now, as I type these worlds, Billy Graham is being buried in a casket that was made by prisoners in Angola who were impacted by his ministry. Two of these men were murderers and one is serving more than 30 years for armed robbery. Their names, per Franklin Graham’s request, were burned into the wood of Billy’s casket.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one of which eventually put his faith in Jesus. Billy Graham was buried in a casket made by three criminals, at least one of which was set free through his ministry.
Even in death, Billy Graham’s example shines as an example for all of us to follow. And may we follow his example as he followed Christ’s (1 Corinthians 11:1.)
You may be thinking, “Well these 7 character traits of Billy Graham are great but I’m no evangelist. What kind of difference am I going to make compared to the likes of Billy Graham?“
John Maxwell once said that even the shyest of people will impact at least 10,000 others during their lifetime. Think about it. Everyone will fill an arena with the number of people they will impact over the course of their lives. In that sense, all of us are evangelists. Over the course of decades thousands upon thousands will see our lives and hear our message.
May we, like Billy Graham, use the pulpit of our lives and the simple message of the Gospel to point them to Jesus!